Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk
Going into E3, the 3DS was the object of interest. Up until that point, it was an enigma, a promise of something special, and yet three days later, after the world’s media had dispersed, the watching public still had very little to go on. Yes, it rendered images in 3D, but for the first time in modern video gaming history there was no way to show us just how game-changing a new technology was going to be.
The first time you set eyes upon the 3DS for yourself, however, you know. For me it was embodied by a small Yorkie puppy, bounding towards the screen, demanding attention. There he was, with a living room stretching out behind him and his tennis ball bouncing across the floor. The effect of depth almost catches you unawares at first, but as my new fluffy companion went from thrusting his head out of the screen to scampering backwards in pursuit of his ball, you realise you’re witnessing something special.
Part of the beauty is that it just works off the bat. There’s no need to configure the system or wear special glasses; as long as you face straight onto the screen then you will be met with the desired effect. To reinforce this, a score of 3DSs were loaded with a heady mix of demos designed to show off Nintendo’s new toy, with videos of party poppers and champagne corks popping mixed with movie and game trailers alike.
Most of the games on display were there in trailer form only, even if they did allow you to shift the camera about interactively to make the most of the handheld’s principal attraction. Kid Icarus, Mario Kart, Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil were all on display, with the latter in particular showing the power of the 3DS, rendering character models that seemed almost on a par with those seen in Resident Evil 5.
Though Mario Kart saw an ample inclusion of jumps and various protruding pipes onto the raceway, Kid Icarus showed off the new dimension best of all. Whether it was pit-flying through a narrow chasm, firing arrows as he went, or running down the neck of a serpentine beast whilst the screen filled with criss-crossing laser beams, each scene wowed the viewer as characters literally leapt from the panel. Possibly even more impressive was the feat that each of these visually stunning moments retained the feeling that they were integral to the game and not a cheap gimmick to fill it with jutting objects.
Bar the tiny Nintendogs cross-section, where puppies could be petted and balls thrown, there were only two other games available to dabble with. One was Hollywood 61, a puzzle adventure game that seemed very similar to Hotel Dusk in both gameplay and presentation. Approaching a cinema, your cop character began prattling on about various life and love issues, but he soon focused his conversation on a serial killer as the camera slid down a long corridor and entered the main auditorium. A spotlight puzzle greeted us, and once solved it illuminated a stage where an unfortunate soul hung from the rafters. Using the new analogue stick, the camera could then be manipulated to reveal a hidden message proclaiming that we were next.
It was more than passable, but far too early to truly judge. If it continues down its path of using depth as an element in its puzzle solving it may have a promising future, but in all honesty it paled next to what else was on display.
Nostalgia aside, Pilot Wings Resort is what sold the 3DS to me. It had only two modes, but each, even so early on in their inception, summed up the strengths of the new system. The first saw you take control of a man strapped to a jetpack, your aim to pop the various balloons that littered the island, whilst the second put you into a plane’s cockpit and liberally scattered rings for you to fly through. Both put you in a position where the 3D truly made a difference to your experience.
Although the island itself appears to be repurposed from Wii Sports Resort, take either of your charges skimming through the town’s streets, banking through forests or looping through crevasses found along the coast line, and you’ll instantly see why the 3DS can definitely work. All allegations of “novelty” or “gimmick” can be cast aside as the sense of speed and immersion in the world washes over you. Never have I wanted to explore a world more, and the exhilarating nature of taking in the landscape at speed kept me returning to the demo time after time.
With the inclusion of the 3D screen, many forget another change from the standard DS is the addition of an analogue nub, and Pilot Wing uses this flawlessly. Gentle banking and swooping low over hillsides, the subtle and responsive movement only serve to further the enjoyment. To think of controlling the graceful, red plane with anything else seems almost heresy, and returning back to a d-pad will be hard.
Much as the off-beat, alternative fun of the original Pilot Wings sold the SNES, Pilot Wings Resort could repeat the feat to a whole new generation.
In between countless trips to Pilot Wings, I was treated to a demo of some of the 3DS’s other features, including the built-in 3D camera. One standard camera faces you on the 3DS’ familiar clamshell, but on the reverse there are two cameras spaced apart that combine to capture pictures in three-dimensions. Practical uses were thin on the ground, but the feature’s inclusion definitely holds a novelty factor that has legs. If the final version also includes editing software akin to that found in DSi, then expect even more japes.
Throughout the whole day, the feature of the 3DS that intrigued me the most was the slider that controlled just how much depth was rendered to the top screen – all the way up and you’d have full 3D; pull it down and the image would revert to a flat frame. Why would anyone have it set to anything less than maximum? And so I fiddled. Even at half-way, the 3D is still effective but seemed to allow the eyes to relax a little more. On the more fast paced demos, such as Mario Kart, this strain was possibly more noticeable, but no more than a passing phase as your eyes become accustomed to the new display. The equivalent, say, of swapping between glasses and contact lenses where the eyes require a few seconds to adjust to the new focal length, and on the more sedate games this transition was nigh on negligible.
All in all, the 3DS is a package that sells itself by simply washing over you with its sheer subtlety and unassuming nature. Many advancements in video games have come about and repeatedly tried to whack you round the face, be it high-def visuals, the encroachment of the online era, or even the now forgotten X-bit wars. With Nintendo’s new hand-held I was met by a puppy, not a marketing man telling me what I wanted; a friendly bark and a lovely game of catch was all I need to be sold. Well, that and a jetplane.
Many will say that you don’t need 3D, and they are completely correct. The industry will function just fine without it, but when it’s executed so well and seamlessly, why would you want anything else.
The Nintendo 3DS is pencilled in for launch in early 2011.